Have you ever finished a book and realized it was 2 AM? Then, spent the rest of your week playing out the character's happily-ever-after because you're just not willing to let them go yet? Finally, desperate to share your experience, you tried to tell someone the plot and felt like you just couldn't do it justice?
Yeah--me neither (*shifty eyes).
What is it about some books that transport us into an entirely new world? How do we write like that?
A few months ago, I wrote an article on writing beautifully, but today I'm going to go a step further. This mini workshop will help you see how to envelope your reader into your world so completely that they won't be tempted to use that cute new bookmark they bought between your pages. Whether your reader is looking for escape or experience, writing a transportive novel will ensure that they get what they're looking for.
Last week Bree talked about how plotting can help organize your thoughts into something you can run with, something that won’t leave you stuck with writer’s block as often as writing by the seat of your pants. I definitely think that’s true, but as a plotter I still get stuck an awful lot. I get stuck so often that when I went to LTUE last month and saw a class called “Obsessive Outlining” taught by M. A. Nichols in the program, I jumped at the chance to see what I could learn there.
I’m so glad I went.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an obsessive person when it comes to finding the right way to do things, but this class made so much sense to me! Before, I would plot as much as I thought I could, coming up with a basic outline and saying what had to happen where. I tried hard to get my thoughts in order before I started writing, but it never got me very far. I would write a story out to the end, wonder what was wrong, finally identify the problems, rewrite, make new problems, and start all over again, keeping only a little of what I had from the previous draft. So many words down the drain! But since Nichols started using this process, she says she’s had to cut out fewer and fewer words from her manuscripts, which sounds like a dream come true.
Laundry is pretty much the bane of every mother's existence. Doesn't seem to matter how many kids you have, clothes multiply like rabbits and pretty soon you're buried. The trick for laundry, I've found, is two-fold: minimize how many clothes you and your kids have (so you can't go much longer than a week without washing), and have a process or routine for getting it done.
You didn't come here for laundry tips, though. You came for writing tips! Lucky for you, laundry and writing have something in common: both are more efficient and a lot less painful when you get more organized! And one way to get more organized with your writing is to try plotting.
I used to be a hardcore pantser. A pantser is a writer that follows the whimsy of their muse to finish a story. Instead of planning everything out, they barrel (or wander) ahead, writing “by the seat of their pants.” Hence the term, “pantser.”
Pantsing was fun. I thought it was the best way to write, waiting for the muse to strike and writing in a fit of passion and emotion. I only wrote when conditions were perfect. When I scheduled writing time for myself, I often found my muse elusive and blamed the infamous condition known as writer's block for my lack of words.
Later, when I revised, I couldn't really tell the difference between times when I'd written full of passion and times when I had forced the words. Progress was slow. My plot meandered. My characters seemed unmotivated and disjointed. I became convinced there had to be a more efficient way to write without sacrificing quality or enjoyment, but I wasn't sure where to look.
Enter plotting. Plotters create an outline before they start writing. This often includes character arcs, the plot, world building, setting, etc. They name characters and do as much research as possible before diving in.
My realization of the magic of plotting was gradual. I heard about plotting at writing conferences I attended, but thought it would suck the joy from writing, so I avoided it as much as I could. Until I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write the sequel to Woven and realized I needed to try something different to succeed in writing 50,000+ words in a month.
As a homeschooling mom with five kids under seven and two businesses, my writing time is limited. I fight for most of the time I get. Those minutes are precious. I can't afford to spend them writing a sentence, thinking what I want to have happen next, and writing the next sentence, or being subject to my unreliable muse from day to day. I love it when a passage flies out of my fingers, but writing nirvana is rare. I needed to try something different: I needed a plan.
You see, Woven took me 3.5 years to write, edit, and publish. I had no outline until close to the end when things got really confusing and I had a deadline to finish by. I had an outline for maybe a third of the book. The book prior to that took me seven years, and I never had an outline.
I started the sequel to Woven during NaNoWriMo 2017. The two months prior I outlined the entire book. The first draft of Bound was finished by January 2018. Only three months! I revised, edited, and released Bound by September. Less than one year.
I'm currently writing a paranormal/urban fantasy trilogy, preparing to rapid release the entire trilogy later this year. I wrote the first book in two and a half months. Then I had a baby and got derailed, understandably. Still, the second book is halfway done. I'm well on my way to taking less than a year to finish THREE entire books. I had a full outline for the first book, a partial outline for the second, and I'm still working out the third. Writing the first book took far less time and went so much easier than writing the second has been, but I've learned my lesson and finally finished plotting the second book.
Writing Through Brambles started as six young moms who wanted to dedicate more time to writing. Over the years we have grown, broken up, and reunited only to explode in our productivity and vision. Now we have a blog where we get to talk to you wonderful writers weekly and we are growing a collection of our own published works! Is it any wonder, then, that writing groups hold such a special place in our hearts? We firmly believe that to be a successful writer you will need a group of people who you can join forces and talents with. Yet we hear all the time that people don’t know where to find a group, or that their group wasn’t helpful or didn’t last long. Sharing our experience, we hope to clear up some of these questions and help lead you to a functioning, uplifting group where you and your writing can be nurtured and strengthened. If you like this article, you can sign up for our newsletter and we will send you a free PDF of writing group resources that we recommend for your own writing group!
After years of querying, when I finally got my first book contract, I heard something shocking: books are more work after you sign the contract than before.
I assumed they meant editing. Turns out, they meant promotion.
Wait, what did I even need a publisher for if not to take care of all the business and marketing? I wrote the next great American novel, so shouldn’t they earn their share of the royalties by doing all the sales?
The book market has changed dramatically. The days of passive authors showing up for the odd signing while the checks roll in are over… if they ever existed. Amazon and the Internet have forever changed publishing. Whether it’s better or worse now is entirely another matter. More authors get their books out, but fewer authors can live off their book sales. Whatever your opinion, the reality now is that readers are inundated with the constant white noise of book ads. The only way for a new author to make any sales is by doing it one book at a time.
That sounds harsh, but it’s just the nature of the modern publishing game. It’s not much different than if you were at a bookstore with a pile of paperbacks sitting in the middle of shelves full of books. Few if any of the patrons came in to buy your book. But some of them may have come in willing to discover a new world. And if you reach out and connect with them, it will probably be yours. E-book sales are no different. If you make a connection, readers will be willing to give your novel a try. If you just blast cover graphics and blurbs all over social media, few if any of those who actually see it will even give it a second thought.
How many random authors’ books you saw ads for online do you seek out and buy?
Imagine this: You’re a writer (probably easy to imagine) and an introvert. Social interactions are difficult at best. That’s part of the reason you chose this career or hobby. But when you’re an author, a big part of being published is creating a platform. (If you’re wondering what an author platform is, look no further than this post by Rachel Huffmire.)
Part of creating your platform is to be present on social media and build a following. If you’re seeking traditional publishing, know that your following could be very important to them. Some won’t even take your work, no matter how amazing it is, if you don’t have a strong enough online presence. Is that scary, or what?
Now, not every publisher will snub you if you have fewer than 20k followers, but even if that’s not a requirement, it’s still important for people to know who you are. Utilizing social media is a great way to meet and connect with lots of people who can support you and your work, with friendship if not with sales.
Here at Writing Through Brambles, we believe that parent writers are basically superheros. Often times being a writer means that you're juggling raising a family, perhaps a full time job, and a passion project. Holli Anderson is a model example of this. She has a degree in nursing, is the Chief Editor at Immortal Works, an amazing mama, and writes paranormal and urban fantasy. Her newest novel, Myrikal, is being released on February 12, and I was excited to sit down with her to discuss it's release!
Rachel Huffmire: In your dystopian world, Myrikal is born during a time when pregnancies are rare. Not only is Myri's existence improbable, but her life is granted unique powers. What inspired you to give Myrikal the powers she has?
Holli Anderson: The inspiration for the whole story came from a video I watched on Facebook, believe it or not. It was a young woman testifying before Congress about being an abortion survivor. She survived a saline abortion attempt and was born 2 months early with chemical burns all over her skin. She was placed in foster care and ended up growing up to be this amazing woman. Her name is Gianna Jesson, I believe. This is also what inspired me to make her most obvious power invulnerability, her skin is impenetrable. The other powers sort of showed themselves as she grew and as the right opportunities presented themselves.
Rachel: From the moment the book starts, we are plunged into a pretty harsh reality. Not only the world Myrikal lives in, but her very parents are shockingly severe. It definitely sets the naturally compassionate Myrikal apart from the world around her once she arrives. Was this inspired by anything?
Holli: I think it stems from my belief that we can choose who we want to be no matter our circumstances. We can choose good even when surrounded by bad.
Rachel: Is there a quality in the real world that you think brings hope to any circumstance?
Holli: Yes – our innate desire to help others. Whenever there’s a disaster anywhere in the world you see normal, everyday people clambering to help in anyway they can. From donations to actually jumping into the disaster area with both feet. I love Mr. Rogers’ quote about helpers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” No matter your political, religious, cultural beliefs—there are always people who will help in dire circumstances.
Rachel: What was your favorite part about developing Myrikal's character?
Holli: My favorite part was her friendship with Branch. That’s when she really started to believe that her dad was wrong about there not being any “good” people in the world. She saw the good in Branch and was then able to see the good in others, too.
This last week I finished The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. Here is a review of the book, and a dissection of how she uses flashbacks as a productive plot construct. I have tried not to reveal too much, but as a general warning, there may be spoilers in the post below.
The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult, is about Sage Singer, a baker who revels in the solitude of her job. Despite her general reclusiveness, Sage befriends 95-year-old Josef, a regular in the grief group she’s attended for three years and a man well known for the years of good he has done in their town. As their friendship grows, he reveals to her that he was a German Nazi SS Guard and he needs her, a jew, to not only forgive him but help him end his life. The shock and the stories his bold request unearth leads Sage down a path that will require her to determine whether redemption is possible, and who is worthy of forgiveness.
Releasing a novel is a bit like being sucked into a tornado while a bunch of people smile and wave at you. It's exhilarating, terrifying, and you can't always predict which direction you'll be thrown. With the expanse of online communities and personal networks available to authors these days, it's hard to know what to focus on when you're trying to self promote. Or how to self promote in the first place.
So, that's what I'm here to talk to you about. No more illusive talk, I'm getting down to the basics. It doesn't matter if you've never been published or have already published and want to grow your audience; it's never too early or too late to start self promoting.
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1. Brand yourself.
When you start self promoting, it's exactly that: SELF promoting. You are the business you are trying to sell, not a particular story. You want all of your other endeavors to succeed because you are the one responsible for them. The goal is to make your name recognizable, so you'll have to decide early on if you want to use your real name or a pseudonym. Once you decide, create all your social media accounts, online community profiles, websites, and business cards with the same name. You don't want to be @rachelhuffmire on one site and @rachiewrites on another. Keep them consistent and professional.
When I first started out, I heard an illusive term floating around: author platform. They told me it was important, but nobody really spelled it out for me. So here you go--- an author platform means all the places you'll be able to stand up and say "Hey! Look at this awesome thing I did!" The bigger the platform, the more people will hear about you and your novel. Your followers don't have to be restricted to writerly groups. If you have a following that watches your how-to videos on making felt finger puppets on YouTube, guess what! That's part of your platform! Figure out what niches you fit into, how you can offer people valuable content, and be friendly. Genuinely make connections, and you'll be surprised how quickly your group can grow!
A few things to think about... Your platforms need to be public, to draw people in. That being said, you need to decide how publicly you are going to broadcast your personal opinions and private life. For me, I decided not to post much about my kids, because, you know, weird people. But, I'm also pretty careful about staying clear of supercharged issues. My brand is not involved in politics, controversial events, derogatory speach, or anything explicit. That's the brand I've chosen. Whereas, some people's brands revolve exclusively around those things. Realize that you absolutely have to make some deliberate decisions about what you can be involved in online.
2. Develop a website.
When people hear your name, they need a landing zone. Your website is where you can tie all your platforms together into one big self-promoting mega machine. People might stumble across your latest tweet, or Instagram pic, but the people who visit your website are deliberate seekers of your brand. These people are coming with questions: What was her book called? Does she have any signing events going on? Can I sign up for a newsletter? I liked her book, I wonder if she wrote anything else.
A good website will have a short bio, blog articles, links to where they can purchase your products, newsletter subscription forms, and event information. You don't have to buy a domain yet, but as soon as you get that publishing contract, having a .com address will make you easier to find and look more professional.
After you get set up, do some research about how to improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). When people type in your name, you want to be the first google hit that shows up. It might be a little daunting, but I can promise you, having a polished website that is the first thing to show up on a google search will make all the marketing you do for your release day much more profitable. So get this step done early.
Do you ever sit down to write, only to find you can’t concentrate when there’s clutter around you? Do you then spend your writing time either cleaning that clutter or avoiding the problem entirely by retreating to social media or “research”?
Cleaning is the bane of my existence, so I’ve never been very good at keeping up with mess. In one of our first apartments, my husband and I basically lived out of our dryer, nearly every flat surface was considered fair game to put junk that didn’t have a spot, and there was a room that was filled with unorganized papers I would toss in when I passed by (don’t worry, I cringe thinking about it, too). And that was BEFORE I had kids. Now, even though I’ve gotten some of my bad cleaning habits under control, even when I get something put away it doesn’t stay put away for long.
But what does my hatred of cleaning have to do with writing? I’ve always known that the pressure to clean never eases up, and that taking care of the worst messes either comes before writing or gets worse. These two priorities clash in my life every single day. I’m constantly trying to come up with a way to keep a clean house and write, but it always feels impossible. Then I bought a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.